Category Archives: CPD

…for who will coach the coaches? Part 1

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More and more schools are considering the impact that coaching can have on the quality of teaching, and some are already putting structures in place for September to make coaching an integral part of their CPD program, including appointing full time teaching and learning coaches.

These coaches face the exciting, yet daunting prospect of a substantial change in day to day practice. It can be difficult to know where to start, and undoubtedly there will be as many different induction programs as there are schools with coaches.

Definitions of coaching, mentoring and other support strategies show clear differences in approaches, but need we be so picky? I use the term ‘coach’ broadly as someone who supports another in improving their practice. Sometimes, direct instruction will be needed, sometimes the coach can relinquish the role of the expert and, through careful questioning, help a colleague to overcome an obstacle. The coach needs to be able to support in different ways depending on the teacher they’re working with and the situation that the teacher is in.

In this 3 post series, I want to consider what could be done to get coaching up and running effectively.

Culture and Vision

Culture is a direct result of how we talk about things. Careful language choice when talking about coaching will be crucial and will need to reflect the school’s vision. Some reasons why changes fail are that the vision is unclear or not communicated, or that it is not rooted in the culture of the school that has already been established. At my school, our vision is Individualised learning through a tailored curriculum. How we talk about coaching should complement what has already been built. Here’s a starting point for phrases that will be used to match coaching to the already established school vision:

Practise strengths to mastery.

…because we can be even better.

Teacher quality matters most.

Consistent principles, flexible approaches.

I want this to become a shared way of talking about what we’re doing when we’re in coaching conversations, or indeed any aspect of CPD. The same applies to appraisal conversations early in the term. In the past, Performance Management targets have been alsmost exclusively focused on improving on perceived weaknesses. This, of course, will continue to be the case but could the process be more effective with an additional (perhaps main) focus of developing a strength to mastery? I think so.

Change can fail because the vision is under-communicated. For coaching to succeed, the rationale should be neatly summed up with phrases like the ones above and used regularly. But not just from SLT to teachers. Sure, it has to start that way, then we need a core group of staff to continue spreading the memes. This is where middle leaders can be effective, for many will be coaches. Teaching assistants, too, will play significant roles. We must leave it in no doubt that we will use coaching to improve our teaching and support of children, because simply continuing our habits, no matter how effective, may not necessarily lead to improvements in our practice. The relentless sharing of vision, with its carefully planned language, will create urgency and spark thinking about what is currently happening in classrooms, and what needs to be done to improve outcomes for children.

For coaching to be effective, there are some pitfalls to avoid in terms of how it is perceived. Nobody will want to be involved if it is seen as an intervention from above because something is not right. Therefore one approach is to ensure that all teachers (and teaching assistants) have a coach. When experienced teachers and those with leadership responsibilities have coaches, we show that the process matches the rhetoric. The message is: We expect and will support everyone to improve. The time between the start of term and the appraisal targets being confirmed is the time to match up staff with coaches and work with those coaches on ways to support their colleages over the next year. In the next post, I’ll consider the specific preparation that coaches may need before they begin their work. In the final post, I’ll show how coaching can fit into a wider CPD program.

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Gradually eroding my ignorance – reflections on the year gone by

This academic year has been one of many changes to how I work. Having read Shaun Allison’s recent blog on 2012-2103, it got me thinking about the benefits of such a blog topic. Over the course of a year, the marginal gains that we make can, when they become autonomous, be taken for granted as we become unconsciously competent. We forget how we used to do things and perhaps in some situations the reasons for the change in the first place. To be effective coaches and leaders, it is important that we clarify the changes that we ourselves make to our practice so we can build up a knowledge of development to complement our content and pedagogical knowledge.

So, this post is a reflection on my year, with two intended benefits. The first is to help me to recall and better understand my professional development, and the second is to help me to prepare for new responsibilities next year around leadership, coaching and CPD.

I did what I knew. And when I knew better, I did better.

It is only this year that I have had anything like an opinion on educational matters. Knowledge vs skills? Direct instruction vs discovery learning? I just didn’t know enough. Up until recently, I don’t feel I had any time available other than to work at making sure I taught well. I realise the importance of this background knowledge now and would advise anyone in their early years of teaching to make the time for supplementary reading. Twitter enabled this to happen – there are so many knowledgeable people sharing readily what they have been reading and their own expertise.

So, a significant change for me this year is that I know more. From Hattie’s meta analysis of effective interventions, to cognitive psychology writings by those such as Daniel Willingham, this knowledge helps to make better judgements, to question and to reflect. I know that many dichotomies presented are false. I know that many advocates of a particular approach have something to sell. I’ve read much more this year than perhaps all my other teaching years combined. Of note are: Practice Perfect by Doug Lemov; Seven Myths About Education by Daisy Christodoulou; Switch by Chip and Dan Heath; The Perfect Teacher Coach by Jackie Beere; Teacher by Tom Bennett; Cognitive Psychology and Instruction by Bruning et al. This is not to mention the numerous blog posts. Having this knowledge provides a sound foundation on which to develop teaching strategies, and it is the same in the classroom. Children need to know stuff if they are to develop the various skills expected.

Hindsight FC

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Throughout most of my twenties, I was a goalkeeper in the lower levels of non-league football. I trained regularly, and a typical session would include practising ‘handling’ (catching and securing differing shots), ‘crosses’ (attacking and catching balls struck into the penalty area) and kicking (working on distance and accuracy with different techniques). Coaches would stop the drills at various points and offer feedback – when the shot is struck, make sure your feet are ‘set’ to allow you to react quickly to changes; raise your knee to protect yourself when jumping for crosses; pull your stomach in and up when you kick the ball to control your swing. Straight away, I’d continue the drill, trying this feedback out. I’m sure these chunks of feedback are fairly decent metaphors for teaching. Perhaps in a different post…

I read Doug Lemov’s book, Practice Perfect, after it was mentioned a few times in my Twitter feed. It provided momentum for a change in thinking. In my early years of teaching, I thought that children practising and children making progress were not comfortable bedfellows. Typing that sentence was rather embarrassing. The more I think about what I was taught as a novice teacher, the more it annoys me. Having played football at a fairly decent standard, I knew and lived the importance of practice. Those misguided early years of teaching were the result of some patchy ITT and the unrealised notion that beliefs and practices, however popularly held, can and should be questioned. Carefully planned practice of essential strategies, with quick and specific feedback, followed by immediate application of the feedback. It’s exactly what I did at football training but had not applied it to how I taught in those early years. Educational research has never been more accessible and an important change for me this year is to question what others claim is good practice.

Making concrete plans

Now, deliberate practice is a fundamental aspect of my classroom. Next though, I aim to affect teaching quality at my school by planning deliberate practice into our CPD schedule. When I read the book the first time, I imagined how a staff INSET session might look, applying Lemov’s 42 rules for getting better at getting better. For example, in a session looking to practice shared writing, I’d start by ‘Calling the Shots’: “We’re about to see a video/live lesson of Mrs X doing shared writing. I want you to look out for how she models her thinking process; how she articulates the writing process. Perhaps you’ll notice some phrases that she uses.” It should be apparent that we have consistent underlying principles, but flexibility in how we apply them.

With colleagues primed, they’d observe and discuss. We’d then probe to qualify what it was that the teacher did and how effective it was, as well as other ways of doing it. Having seen a good example and refined some ideas through discussion, we’d split off into smaller groups to have a go. Colleagues would have been asked to bring with them anything that would help them practise shared writing, perhaps parts of their working wall from their current unit of work or from a recent one. They’d have a go, colleagues would provide some feedback to the person presenting, then they’d act on that feedback by doing that bit again.

Up until this point it sounds pretty straight forward, but the moment the time comes to practise is probably the moment where it breaks down. It’s awkward, we feel self-conscious and most of us will employ some sort of avoidance strategy. With this in mind, until staff are more comfortable with the idea of practice I’m thinking that initially it would be better to build the habits of practice through 1:1 coaching in the classroom. Find opportunities in the lesson to give some quick feedback to the teacher and get them to redo strategies acting on the advice. I’ve tried both ways in the last few weeks and months and the 1:1 was undoubtedly more successful. However, we cannot assume that effective teachers will coach well too. So, a priority for September is to deliberately practise strategies that our coaches will be using. Demonstration lessons, coaching conversations and quick, effective feedback will probably be the staple of the coaches work. If we get this sorted early on, I know we can make advances in the pursuit if great teaching.

I get the feeling that we are approaching a period of significant change in education. As we understand more about learning and effective strategies, we can further refine what we do in the classroom. Looking forward to 2013-2014…

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Making deliberate practice work

Previously, I have written about the need to turn ideas about deliberate practice as part of CPD into firm actions. I have, in the last week, attempted to make this work in two different situations, with varied success. This post is my analysis of why one situation worked better than the other.

The first session I tried out was for a group of 30-40 teachers and head teachers. It was part of a training day in Talk for Writing, specifically around developing writers’ toolkits with children, which I have written about here. After a demonstration of a couple of variations of how it could be done, there was some discussion about what the teacher actually does to generate a writers’ toolkit with children. This was fine and understood well by the delegates, so the next stage of the plan was to set up some deliberate practice, which I explained using the following model.

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And it didn’t work. I can think of a few reasons. In Doug Lemov’s book, Practice Perfect, his rule number 24 is: Apply first, then reflect. The delegates, either through having a lot to talk about following what they had seen and heard, or through avoidance of potentially awkward acting in role, did a lot of reflecting. Having started the process in earnest, the first moment that arose that caused a discussion was grabbed and this disrupted the intended deliberate practice. Alas, I was not skilful enough to redirect such a large group and the moment passed. Plus it was lunchtime.

Lesson learned. It’s very difficult to keep a large group focused on deliberate practice.

I had an altogether different opportunity to try out setting up some deliberate practice later in the week. Having observed a colleague’s maths lesson (Year 1, division), I selected an aspect of what the teacher did, that if tweaked, could have been great. It was to do with explicitly addressing a common misconception. Here’s what I wrote as a plan:

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I talked through each part with the teacher and asked them to talk through each bit, writing / drawing on a prepared IWB file as necessary. When the teacher presented effectively, I said so and asked them to repeat that bit. When the teacher presented something ineffectively, I referred to my plan, suggested or modelled an improvement, then they did that bit again. Some bits worked better than others. I thought I knew the content very well, but clearly not well enough for all the subtleties of what the teacher could have said. As such, my feedback could have been clearer at points.

Next, I’ll find 5 minutes a couple of times over the next week to run that practice drill again. Then, the teacher will have a go with a small group of children, with me coaching and offering live advice which can be acted upon immediately. Finally, having experienced the process, I intend to use that teacher in a larger group with other colleagues who teach the same year group, getting then to deliberately practise the same explanation frequently over a period of time then applying to their own classes.

So, my advice to anyone in a similar situation would be to start working with one person, in order to manage distractions. Keep the content simple and plan for the most common responses that would need feedback.

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Improving teacher quality – With vision must come action

In terms of securing the best outcomes for the children that we teach, you’ll have to travel pretty far to find someone who disagrees that teacher quality is key.

Vision

Every teacher needs to improve, not because we are not good enough, but because we can be even better. Dylan William

In order to address the ‘Ok plateau’, which describes the apparent halt in improvement after teachers’ first few years, a relentless focus on improving teacher quality through CPD must be a priority for schools, regardless of their circumstances. I have read a lot over the last few weeks, including books and blog posts, which included a lot of wisdom. With vision must come action and this post is my attempt to turn the many ideas I have read about into something tangible – the first steps into applying my reading into a great CPD program in my school. I don’t claim this to be in any way a polished plan, but I hope that by writing it that I find further clarity.

CPD

An INSET schedule for the academic year will have various foci, but it seems prudent to have a consistent thread throughout the school year on the fundamentals for all subjects and all age ranges. Alex Quigley (@huntingenglish) proposes explanations, questioning and feedback as the ‘holy trinity’ of teaching. Doug Lemov, in his book ‘Practice Perfect’ refers to this as the 80/20 rule, or the ‘law of the vital few’. That is, identifying the 20% of things that we do that deliver 80% of the value. There are certainly other aspects of teaching that require status in this 20%, including behaviour management, and individual schools will have their own priorities that they would add to this. For example, there may be targets on the school improvement plan or from rounds of lesson observations that would need to be a part of the 20%. Schools that perceive explanations, questioning and or feedback to be a strength of their teaching profile may be tempted to leave these aspects out of their CPD schedule in order to work on perceived weaknesses. Although weaknesses do need addressing, this may be a mistake. Failure to keep the profile of important aspects of teaching practice high could lead to complacency. With good advanced planning, this could all be linked to individual performance management. How often around the country are performance management targets not effectively worked on? Identification of the 20% needs to happen first, and then be referred to constantly, including as part of performance management targets, observation foci and so on.

Then there is the issue of how CPD is presented. Traditionally, the lecture style by SLT or an external consultant or expert has been the norm. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this, but to expect teachers to apply ideas to their practice will not work for the majority. There needs to be a carefully planned follow up to CPD sessions of this nature. The action research model is an example of this, where teachers ‘act their way into thinking’, after a brief input from an expert. Just like in lesson design for our pupils, we should plan for variation, a ‘desirable difficulty’ as Robert Bjork puts it (see this post by David Didau @learningspy). However it is presented, the CPD that we provide for staff should reflect the importance attached to improving teacher quality. Perhaps the most underused method of CPD that we are not taking advantage of though, is deliberate practice.

Deliberate Practice

Practise the highest priority things more than everything else combined.

The old maxim ‘practice makes perfect’ is not strictly true. Practice makes permanent . Simply doing something regularly does not necessarily lead to improvement. I play football every week, yet I see no discernible improvement (much to the dismay of my fellow footballers). Similarly, just teaching every day, with the exception of in the first few years, will not lead to improvement, hence the ‘Ok plateau’.

So deliberate practice is required in order to improve. Once the ‘law of the vital few’ has been thought about and the 20% most valuable teacher behaviours identified, deliberate practice needs planning for. Lemov cites the need to set up drills where the specific skills related to explanation etc can be isolated and practised. For example, this could be the fluency of the explanation or the use of analogy. It could be the modelling of a formal written method for division to include the generation of success criteria. I wonder how many school leaders are developing these kind of drills? Twitter’s value for teachers is in the collaboration it inspires. Perhaps there is a niche developing here – #deliberatepracticedrills .

Before expecting teachers to practise, they would need to see it done effectively first through an expert demonstration, live teaching of children, or perhaps a video clip. Then they would practise. Feedback is important here. When the teacher demonstrates effectiveness, other observers tell them so. Then they do that bit again. This repetition should help to internalise desired behaviours and skills. When the teacher demonstrates ineffectiveness, the other observers tell them so. They offer advice: “Try saying it like this.” Then they do that bit again. They get an immediate chance to act on the feedback given and internalise effectiveness. This drilling will ideally create a foundation on which individuals can innovate and free up working memory in order to react to the variable classroom environment.

Once embedded, we could aim for really efficient use of INSET time. When staff have internalised the requirements for being effective at a certain aspect of teaching, and have in the past practised a drill, named, the first 5-10 minutes of an INSET session could be as straight forward as: Let’s run the ‘success criteria drill’. Or Let’s run the ‘low level disruption drill’. By regularly returning to well thought out drills, we could also reap the benefits of another of Bjork’s desirable difficulties, spacing.

Deliberate practice drills seems good for working on skills in isolation. But they cannot recreate the fluidity and unpredictability of the classroom. Lemov uses the sports coaching analogy of moving from drills to scrimmages – small sided games – to assess the readiness for performance. Scrimmage for teachers could take the form of coaching in the classroom, which deserves a blog post of its own. After we have deliberately practised and been coached in a more realistic situation, we should be ready for performance. For us teachers, the performance that matters includes every lesson every day with the children we teach. The analogy does not quite work unless we consider performance in this sense to mean some sort of formal observation. Not ideal, I know, but hear me out. Consider a situation where a culmination of the deliberate practice and coaching leaves every teacher ready for a (necessary due to issues of accountability etc) formal observation. The focus for the observation was determined before the CPD cycle began so everyone knows the purpose. The teacher can then request the observation at the time of their choosing, effectively stating: I’ve been working on this, come and see. Clearly some sort of time frame is necessary, say within a term. How’s that for professional trust?

There is much to grapple with in terms of improving teacher quality, and to make it as effective as possible will require some brave decisions. Of course, as with any intervention it will need to be scrutinised every step of the way. But, if we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got.

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Writers’ Toolkit – Discussion

These are photos of our writers’ toolkit for discussion writing. Note that the intention goes beyond “provide a balanced argument”. There are different intentions for different parts of the text. See this post for more on creating writers’ toolkits.

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Giraffe

Following this post, I’m blogging some lesson ideas which address some of the problems with how mathematical modelling has been taught in primary schools.

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I asked my class “What questions pop into your head?”. After the expected “What is that man doing to that poor giraffe?”, we got some interesting ones.

What is the difference in weight between the man and the giraffe?

How many baby giraffes would weigh the same as an adult giraffe?

Now, I had an objective for this lesson, but I didn’t say anything about it straight away. I wanted my class to be able to read scales, but saying this at the beginning can kill lessons stone dead. Instead, I had a question of my own.

How much does the baby giraffe weigh?

Here we had to clarify why they can’t just put the baby giraffe on the scales. I asked them for an answer. Someone should say that they need to know more, but just in case, I asked them “What information do you need to know to answer the question?” I questioned further, asking what they might do with that information or why they think it’s important. We settled on the necessary requirements-weight of both man and giraffe, and weight of man alone.

I told them I didn’t know these weights, but I did have pictures of the scales when this was happening. But before I gave this to them (different scales for different children) I made sure that they knew how to read the scales. I modelled how to work out the size of the intervals; we recorded the success criteria, they practised on unrelated scales.

Then, they returned to the giraffe problem. I gave them the information they asked for earlier. The children worked through the problem, some quickly, some slower. At this point I had some related, but differently worded problems as ‘sequels’. Yes, these were more like the traditional word problems, but the children knew very well the context by now. Here are some of the prepared questions.

An adult giraffe weighs 3 times as much as the baby. Weight of adult and baby together?

In a year’s time the giraffe is weighed again. The man weighs the same but the giraffe’s weight has increased by 10%. Weight of man and giraffe? Weight of giraffe?

Also, the good quality original questions that children asked at the beginning could be answered.

Here, I could also formalise the lesson – talk lesson objectives and work on the accuracy of mathematical vocabulary. Name the lesson.

This way, there is little literacy demand at the beginning of the lesson. The purpose is made clear from the outset before any maths is introduced. The children were not simply given information; they had to work for it. I directly taught them how to read scales and they practised. They had a variety of question types.

With thanks to @ddmeyer for the concept of 3 Act Maths. This is far from polished and there are further opportunities to develop. I haven’t developed yet how to show children the answer to the original question. Seeing is believing and it validates the maths that they have been using.

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The Problem with Word Problems

Mathematical modelling in the primary classroom has long been an area that I have wanted to develop yet didn’t really know how. I’ve seen (and, admittedly, taught) a probably familiar looking lesson many times – ‘word problems’ tagged onto the end of teaching children some concept or other. Underline the important information; decide which operation is needed; calculate; answer the question. Sure, some children get it, but many, as we know, slip through the net.

I first came across Dan Meyer (@ddmeyer) when I watched his TED talk about a year ago. Recently, I had the chance to attend one of his workshops and even though his work is very much aimed at teaching the secondary age range, I felt that there was plenty that could be applied to improve mathematical modelling in primary schools.

The problem with word problems

Here’s a typical word problem that requires some mathematical modelling that you might find in a primary classroom:

A rectangle has a length of 15cm and a width of 8cm. What is the area of the rectangle?

There will definitely be some children that have trouble decoding and comprehending this. The literacy demand may play some role in children being unable to work trough this type of problem. All the necessary information is given from the outset which is not how the world tends to work. The purpose of the problem comes last. The child will read some words without knowing the purpose for it until the end. Children may be given a whole raft of almost identically worded problems with slightly changed numbers.

One way of addressing these problems

How to address these problems? Dan Meyer’s blog post explains in good detail, but here’s a simplified version to get started with. First, remove the literacy demand and make the context concrete. Image or video works great here. Ask “What questions pop into your head?” I’d have a question ready that I’d like children to work on, but children may think of questions that have some mileage. Make sure children know the question that they’ll be working on – the purpose comes before any of the maths or specific information. Ask “What information is needed to answer this question?” With skilful further questioning, make children work for the necessary information, revealing it when they have shown an understanding of what it may be used for or why it is important. Once they have the information they need, it’s time for the maths. Make sure that they know how to do what they need to do. Model; generate success criteria and get them to practise as necessary before returning to the problem. Children will soon have an answer – have ready a few related but different questions as opposed to repetitively worded problems.

My next few posts will be some examples of these principles that I have tried out.

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